I respect and frequently enjoy the writing of Fred Reed, whose work I discovered through being a regular visitor to LewRockwell.com. Recently, he wrote about the place of Christianity in history and its current decline in our secular and, although human nature hasn’t changed, I would say selfish world; he opined that as Christianity’s spiritual and moral influence fades, only its incomparable art, created by distant generations, remains. Nevertheless, I do agree with Mr. Reed’s observations here:
Catholicism, in particular, has combined spiritual concerns with a strong intellectual bent. The Christian interest in questions of origin and destiny and man’s purpose produced profound thought from the Church Fathers to C. S. Lewis. Today consideration of such matters as death and meaning are held to be in bad taste. Insensible of the wonder and strangeness of existence, we watch Seinfeld reruns and congratulate ourselves on not paying attention to that, you know, like, religious stuff. We live under a sort or Disneyland Marxism and descend ever deeper into complacent ignorance.
And so I see attempts to dismiss Christianity as a mere add-on or style having nothing to do with the achievements of Christendom. This is historical illiteracy. Read any of the thinkers and authors from late Roman times on until recently and you find that they took their faith seriously, that it created their mental worlds. Augustine, Newton, Samuel Johnson, Sydney Smith more recently, and in the United States the Puritans, Quakers, and so on. Many of these were men of high intellect. Their casual dismissal by professors of sociology is in the nature of monkeys throwing books from a window.
What I find problematic is when he writes and concludes:
In our material and not very thoughtful age the fashion is to point to the crimes committed by the church, to its venality, hypocrisy, and immorality. They existed. Christians behaved, and behave, as horribly as everybody else. But this is usual in human endeavor. As a moral preceptor, Christianity was fraudulent. As a culture and civilization, it was of immense importance. One might note that the atheist dictators–Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot–hold the record for murderousness…
The future? Christianity seems to be dying out. A resurgence is hard to imagine. It simply isn’t suited to the modern world.
I don’t anticipate convincing Mr. Reed he is in error about Christianity’s suitability to the modern world yet I believe he is terribly wrong although the fault is not his; the problem is that frequently Christians did and do not follow the true way of Christ, which requires courage, self-discipline and most of all love, showing lovingkindness and understanding. To the contrary, I would argue in this modern age, in this age of human beings whose god is all too often the state and its controllers, an age where too many worship violence as both means and end, violence that continually claims ever more victims, the way of Christ—a third way—has never been more appropriate or necessary.
The two obvious ways of response to a hostile or violent situation are first, aggression or second, submission.
Christ’s way is neither: it is a third way worthy of consideration and never more relevant in the situation we face today.
In my writing on Desmond Doss, I tried to emphasize that while superficially and transitorily successful, violence inflicts as great a cost on the doer as the victim and the roles can easily be reversed, resulting in a perpetual cycle of violence. I think Benjamin Jowett’s introduction to Gorgias is relevant and of course Platonic thought preceded Christ’s but parallels it:
The irony of Plato sometimes veils from us the height of idealism to which he soars. When declaring truths which the many will not receive, he puts on an armour which cannot be pierced by them. The weapons of ridicule are taken out of their hands and the laugh is turned against themselves. The disguises which Socrates assumes are like the parables of the New Testament, or the oracles of the Delphian God; they half conceal, half reveal, his meaning. The more he is in earnest, the more ironical he becomes; and he is never more in earnest or more ironical than in the Gorgias. He hardly troubles himself to answer seriously the objections of Gorgias and Polus, and therefore he sometimes appears to be careless of the ordinary requirements of logic. Yet in the highest sense he is always logical and consistent with himself. The form of the argument may be paradoxical; the substance is an appeal to the higher reason. He is uttering truths before they can be understood, as in all ages the words of philosophers, when they are first uttered, have found the world unprepared for them. A further misunderstanding arises out of the wildness of his humour; he is supposed not only by Callicles, but by the rest of mankind, to be jesting when he is profoundly serious. At length he makes even Polus in earnest. Finally, he drops the argument, and heedless any longer of the forms of dialectic, he loses himself in a sort of triumph, while at the same time he retaliates upon his adversaries. From this confusion of jest and earnest, we may now return to the ideal truth, and draw out in a simple form the main theses of the dialogue.
It is a greater evil to do than to suffer injustice.
Compare the New Testament—
‘It is better to suffer for well doing than for evil doing.’—1 Pet.
And the Sermon on the Mount—
‘Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.’—Matt.
The words of Socrates are more abstract than the words of Christ, but they equally imply that the only real evil is moral evil. The righteous may suffer or die, but they have their reward; and even if they had no reward, would be happier than the wicked. The world, represented by Polus, is ready, when they are asked, to acknowledge that injustice is dishonourable, and for their own sakes men are willing to punish the offender (compare Republic). But they are not equally willing to acknowledge that injustice, even if successful, is essentially evil, and has the nature of disease and death. Especially when crimes are committed on the great scale—the crimes of tyrants, ancient or modern—after a while, seeing that they cannot be undone, and have become a part of history, mankind are disposed to forgive them, not from any magnanimity or charity, but because their feelings are blunted by time, and ‘to forgive is convenient to them.’ The tangle of good and evil can no longer be unravelled; and although they know that the end cannot justify the means, they feel also that good has often come out of evil. But Socrates would have us pass the same judgment on the tyrant now and always; though he is surrounded by his satellites, and has the applauses of Europe and Asia ringing in his ears; though he is the civilizer or liberator of half a continent, he is, and always will be, the most miserable of men. The greatest consequences for good or for evil cannot alter a hair’s breadth the morality of actions which are right or wrong in themselves. This is the standard which Socrates holds up to us. Because politics, and perhaps human life generally, are of a mixed nature we must not allow our principles to sink to the level of our practice.
And so of private individuals—to them, too, the world occasionally speaks of the consequences of their actions:—if they are lovers of pleasure, they will ruin their health; if they are false or dishonest, they will lose their character. But Socrates would speak to them, not of what will be, but of what is—of the present consequence of lowering and degrading the soul. And all higher natures, or perhaps all men everywhere, if they were not tempted by interest or passion, would agree with him—they would rather be the victims than the perpetrators of an act of treachery or of tyranny. Reason tells them that death comes sooner or later to all, and is not so great an evil as an unworthy life, or rather, if rightly regarded, not an evil at all, but to a good man the greatest good. For in all of us there are slumbering ideals of truth and right, which may at any time awaken and develop a new life in us.
Yet if one views human interaction as nothing more than an exemplar of the Darwinian “meme” of survival of the fittest, aggression in the pursuit of dominance is “natural” and expected, not to be resisted. That that dominance in and of itself may not be a goal worthy of human aspiration is not often considered; one doesn’t have to be a Biblical scholar to recognize Jesus’ contrary teaching.
Within every species dominance translates itself into better access to food as well as sexual partners. In other words, the needs and claims of some receive priority over those of others. Last, but not least, the laws of heredity mean that animals are likely to have offspring similar to themselves. While individuals change, inequality as such tends to be self-perpetuating. It prevails not only at any one moment but over time as well. Seen from an evolutionary perspective, that is probably why it has come into the world. As we shall see, among humans inequality probably had its origin when some people convinced themselves, and succeeded in convincing others, that they were closer to the spirits, or gods.
Consequently—even if van Creveld’s thesis is scholarly and secular—he is justified in the assertion that aggression is frequently a means to an end: that is the desire for dominance over others and its concomitant rewards. Yet human beings—I believe—can fulfill a higher purpose…not without introspection and struggle and effort.
Indeed, it is precisely in horror fiction where the logical implications of an egalitarian world have been fully drawn. Professor Schoeck has resurrected for us the depiction of such a world in the British anti-Utopian novel Facial Justice, by L.P. Hartley, in which envy is institutionalized by the State’s making sure that all girls’ faces are equally pretty, with medical operations being performed on both beautiful and ugly girls to bring all of their faces up or down to the general common denominator…
The fundamental axiom of libertarian theory is that no one may threaten or commit violence (“aggress”) against another man’s person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a nonaggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory.
Although Rothbard was an atheist, his describing the central tenet of nonaggression belongs not only to libertarianism but also, from my (inexpert) interpretation of scripture, to Jesus’ way as well.
Thanks to the writing of Lawrence M. Vance, I discovered the work of Walter Wink; he makes clear from his scholarship and translation of the Ancient Greek text of the New Covenant that when Christ states to “turn the other cheek” he is not talking about submission; he is telling how resistance is possible not by violence but by compelling the aggressor to see his victim not as a thing, but as a person; and in effect for him to face the consequences of his actions by using the strength of the aggression, like a judo move, against him. Christians may be unaware of this aspect of Jesus’ teaching because as Wink notes, King James’ translators faced restrictions. (And no one pointed out the core nature of violence against human beings is dehumanization better than Simone Weil.)
To clarify, see this excerpt from Wink’s book Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way:
Many of those who have committed their lives to ending injustice simply dismiss Jesus’ teachings about nonviolence out of hand as impractical idealism. And with good reason. “Turn the other cheek” suggests the passive, Christian doormat quality that has made so many Christians cowardly and complicit in the face of injustice. “Resist not evil” seems to break the back of all opposition to evil and to counsel submission. “Going the second mile” has become a platitude meaning nothing more than “extend yourself,” and rather than fostering structural change, encourages collaboration with the oppressor…
When the court translators working in the hire of King James chose to translate antistēnai as “Resist not evil,” they were doing something more than rendering Greek into English. They were translating nonviolent resistance into docility. [Emphasis added.] Jesus did not tell his oppressed hearers not to resist evil. That would have been absurd. His entire ministry is utterly at odds with such a preposterous idea. The Greek word is made up of two parts: anti, a word still used in English for “against,” and histēmi, a verb that in its noun form (stasis) means violent rebellion, armed revolt, sharp dissention. In the Greek Old Testament, antistēnai is used primarily for military encounters—44 out of 71 times. It refers specifically to the moment two armies collide, steel on steel, until one side breaks and flees. In the New Testament it describes Barabbas, a rebel “who had committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19, 25), and the townspeople in Ephesus, who “are in danger of being charged with rioting” (Acts 19:40). The term generally refers to a potentially lethal disturbance or armed revolution. A proper translation of Jesus’ teaching would then be, “Don’t strike back at evil (or, one who has done you evil) in kind.” “Do not retaliate against violence with violence.”
The Scholars Version is brilliant: “Don’t react violently against the one who is evil.” Jesus was no less committed to opposing evil than the anti-Roman resistance fighters. The only difference was over the means to be used: how one should fight evil.
There are three general responses to evil: (1) passivity, (2) violent opposition, and 3) the third way of militant nonviolence articulated by Jesus. Human evolution has conditioned us for only the first two of these responses: flight or fight. “Fight” had been the cry of Galileans who had abortively rebelled against Rome only two decades before Jesus spoke. Jesus and many of his hearers would have seen some of the two thousand of their countrymen crucified by the Romans along the roadsides.
Why then does he counsel these already humiliated people to turn the other cheek? Because this action robs the oppressor of the power to humiliate. The person who turns the other cheek is saying, in effect, “Try again. Your first blow failed to achieve its intended effect. I deny you the power to humiliate me. I am a human being just like you. Your status does not alter that fact. You cannot demean me.”
Such a response would create enormous difficulties for the striker. Purely logistically, what can he do? He cannot use the backhand because his nose is in the way. He can’t use his left hand regardless. If he hits with a fist, he makes himself an equal, acknowledging the other as a peer. But the whole point of the back of the hand is to reinforce the caste system and its institutionalized inequality. Even if he orders the person flogged, the point has been irrevocably made. The oppressor has been forced, against his will, to regard this subordinate as an equal human being. The powerful person has been stripped of his power to dehumanize the other. This response, far from admonishing passivity and cowardice, is an act of defiance.
Excerpt from Wink, Walter. Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Facets)
Why is the nonviolent way of Christian resistance relevant now more than ever in effect refuting Fred Reed? Am I arguing against the use of force to defend oneself during a home invasion, as Lew frequently posts? Not at all; for the Way of Christ does not defy common sense. Neither of the situations Jesus discussed was life-threatening, although they had that potential and the victim was unarmed facing a more powerful threat. As the late William Norman Grigg and John W. Whitehead have frequently written on Lew’s site, the militarized police (who existed in the time of Christ as the Roman occupiers) present a threat to citizens merely at the wrong place at the wrong time; furthermore, violence is omnipresent and glorified in the mass media: television, movies, books. Raised in the “culture of violence” are people with a mentality that dehumanizes their potential victims, especially too many of our putative “public servants”. Christ would argue that they are victims as well, I think: their actions are inharmonious with the human potential to be in God’s image, to become like Christ in his compassion and love for his fellow human beings. Violence against fellow human beings is the very antithesis of Christ’s teaching and the nature of God as Jesus expressed it; violence is another aspect of man’s “fallen” nature, part of his separation from God; Rothbard reiterates this in a secular way.
Christians should be aware of the power of Jesus’ words and their truth; unless we have no alternative, we can resist the aggressor and in fact have an obligation to resist because the wrongdoer must be made aware of how his actions are inherently to his detriment, being contrary to the higher nature we can aspire to attain and ultimately counterproductive. History has shown that all tyrannies fail and their ending is terrible to behold.
Thus, when Fred Reed writes of the irrelevance of Christianity, I think the way of Christ has never been more relevant since the citizens of the state will never possess the brute force of its servants, nor should we wish to have or employ such force. We must do everything in our power in a difficult situation to humanize ourselves in the eyes of the aggressor, to elicit his sense of shame, to convince the aggressor that he is in the wrong and will be damaged by his conduct. I do not say following Christ’s way shall be easy or always successful. Yet for Christians, nonviolent resistance in the face of evil is the way of Christ; we must have faith in the rightness of our action and in God. There is nothing fraudulent, as Reed wrote, in Christ’s teachings; only Christians misunderstand Christ, do not truly study His teachings or find it too difficult to follow Him. So, to the contrary, as times worsen, as violence and cruelties grow like cancer in our midst, a resurgence of true Christian faith is possible.
Following Jesus, as He told us, will make us subject to persecution; even Christians whose interpretation of Christ does not encompass resisting or challenging the state are under attack, as this excellent piece by Becky Ackers makes clear (Bernie Sanders’ recent attack against a Christian nominee for Federal office); she writes:
I don’t blame you if you’ve forgotten Sanders’ bile: though several members of the corporate media reported it and a few even condemned the Comrade’s “hate speech,” their pique quickly–and predictably–evaporated. Switch the players for a moment, though: would we ever have heard the end of it had Sen. Vought, a Christian, castigated Nominee Sanders because he’s Jewish?
At any rate, various Christians condemned Comrade Sanders for his stupidity (is this commie sincerely ignorant that virtually all of the Founding Fathers frequently and vociferously proclaimed their faith in Christ as the only Way of salvation? Or is he calculatingly obtuse, like most Progressives?) and his bigotry. But where were these folks during last year’s campaign, when the Comrade bluntly, repeatedly advised theft as a legitimate political tool? When he eagerly induced envy and greed in Americans? Why aren’t Christians individually and the Church as a whole condemning socialism and the sins it hatches? “Ah,” I hear my siblings in the Lord saying, “but socialism is just politics.” Really? So was Sanders’ assault.
Rather than excoriating Comrade for his repellent prejudice, let’s thank him. He has plainly revealed Progressivism for what it is: an intense contempt for the Triune God, His eternal law, and His people. Perhaps Comrade will even help awaken America’s peacefully slumbering Church.
If Christianity is not undergoing a resurgence in America, it is gaining new adherents in surprising places. Michael Snyder, whose writing I found from Lew Rockwell, recently wrote on Muslims converting to Christianity and included this story from Breitbart:
Gina Fadely, the director of Youth With A Mission Frontier Missions (YWAM), told The Voice of the Martyrs Radio Network one of their workers met a former ISIS fighter who murdered Christians, but converted after a dream:
“He told this YWAM leader that he had begun having dreams of this man in white who came to him and said, ‘You are killing my people.’ And he started to feel really sick and uneasy about what he was doing,” Fadely continued. “The fighter said just before he killed one Christian, the man said, ‘I know you will kill me, but I give to you my Bible.’ The Christian was killed and this ISIS fighter actually took the Bible and began to read it. In another dream, Jesus asked him to follow him and he was now asking to become a follower of Christ and to be discipled.”
“So who knows. Perhaps this man will be like Saul in the Bible that persecuted Christians and he turned from that persecution of the early church to become the Apostle Paul who led it,” Fadely added. “God can turn it around.”
Fadely is speaking about St. Paul the Apostle, who was known as Saul before he converted. He used to persecute the followers of Jesus and some texts claim he enjoyed it as much as the ISIS fighter enjoyed murdering Christians. On his way to Damascus to persecute more followers, he is blinded by a light and hears a voice. From Acts 9:1-9
Again, I will not condemn the Syrian people defending their nation, their homes and their lives by using their military against foreign sponsored ISIS fighters; that doesn’t mean that the power of God is inferior to military force, simply that there are other approaches, that pace Fred Clark, so there is reason to have faith that the power of Jesus’ way will bring even the most unlikely people to him. We should not feel bereft no matter how dark the times and the horrors we see and hear every day. Miracles—if you believe—are there to be found and to share.
Not all aggression is physical violence; Vox Day detailed in this piece on Lew’s site the problems people suffer facing the attacks of Social Justice Warriors and how to survive and resist, as Christ would want us to act. For turning the other cheek does not mean being passive and submissive in the face of evil; it means using the aggressor’s ill-advised violence—not always physical—against them. Christians especially have an obligation to challenge evildoers but not with violence or hate. Those who read my words probably recall personal experiences in which in fact they did “resist” nonviolently evil, and had success but did not realize they were following Christ’s Way.
Yet it is my sincere hope that even those who are not Christians may profit from His teaching, as much as they have from the cultural legacy Fred Reed so eloquently affirmed. After all, the principle of nonviolent resistance is, I believe, fundamental to being a libertarian—although like being Christian, that too is interpreted differently by so many people. I myself trust Rothbard’s teachings…and Jesus’ of course; there are similarities, even if subtle ones.
Walter Wink’s summary of Jesus’ Third Way
- Seize the moral initiative
- Find a creative alternative to violence
- Assert your own humanity and dignity as a person
- Meet force with ridicule or humor
- Break the cycle of humiliation
- Refuse to submit or to accept the inferior position
- Expose the injustice of the system
- Take control of the power dynamic
- Shame the oppressor into repentance
- Stand your ground
- Force the Powers to make decisions for which they are not prepared
- Recognize your own power
- Be willing to suffer rather than to retaliate
- Cause the oppressor to see you in a new light
- Deprive the oppressor of a situation where a show of force is effective
- Be willing to undergo the penalty for breaking unjust laws
- Die to fear of the old order and its rules